Talk about performing under pressure and making an impression at Qatar 2022, Gonçalo Ramos certainly rose to the occasion for Portugal.
Playing instead of Portugal’s all-time leading scorer, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ramos scored an emphatic hat-trick, almost singlehandedly sealing his team’s place in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals with a 6-1 win over Switzerland at the Lusail Iconic Stadium on Tuesday.
Not only was it his first start at Qatar 2022, the tournament’s first hat-trick, but Ramos’ three goals in this last-16 tie puts Ronaldo record in one-off World Cup games somewhat in the shade. Ronaldo has never scored in a World Cup knockout match, despite competing in five tournaments.
So, who is this 21-year-old striker nicknamed “Pistoleiro” by fans?
Ramos is a product of the famous Benfica academy. Known as the Benfica Campus the academy helped launch the careers of some of Ramos’ Portugal teammates, including João Félix and Rúben Dias.
At the academy, around 95 players live there at any one time, and when they transition from the Under-18s to the Under-19s, players move out into their own houses or apartments in Lisbon.
“In our opinion, it was the age that they start to have their own lives,” Rodrigo Magalhães, technical coordinator for the Campus, told CNN earlier this year.
“Some of them have girlfriends, some of them live two or three in an apartment. So they start a life outside the academy as we need to prepare them to live their lives because we know that a small percentage of players will achieve the goal to play in the first team or in the main leagues in Europe.
“After those ages, Under-19 and Under-23, normally all of our players who progress [from the academy] can play in first divisions and second divisions here in Portugal or in other countries, but we need to prepare them if football fails.
“The first objective was to develop them like human beings and we need to prepare them with a strong academic development too.”
Ramos joined the Benfica Campus in 2013, enjoying a stellar youth team career for the club and his national team.
He won the national title at the Under-15 and Under-17 age levels, while also finishing as the top scorer in the Under-19 Euros as Portugal finished runner-up to Spain.
In a display of what was to come from Ramos, he eventually made his first-team debut for Benfica in July 2020, marking the occasion with two goals.
Despite the early promise, it hasn’t been until this season that people have routinely become accustomed to seeing the name Gonçalo Ramos on the scoresheet for Benfica.
Following Darwin Núñez’s transfer to Liverpool from the Portuguese club in the summer, Ramos has scored 14 goals in 21 matches so far this season in an impressive first half to the campaign for the Lisbon club.
Benfica tops the Portuguese league table and is safely into the round of 16 stage of the Champions League having topped a group which included Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus. Benfica will play Club Brugge in the round of 16.
Ramos’ work ethic is something which has also endeared him to teammates and fans.
“Of Goncalo I like two things. He’s a goalscorer. He has an incredible intuition. On top of that, he’s a great fighter. Never gives up!” Ramos’ Benfica teammate Grimaldo told Marca.
Ramos’ trademark celebration – where he mimics holding two pistols as he runs to the corner flag – has earned him the nickname the “Pistoleiro” or the gunman.
And he has been firing this season.
In November, Ramos’ form for Benfica earned him an inclusion in manager Fernando Santos’ World Cup squad despite having previously not appeared for the Seleção.
Ramos’ debut followed in a cameo off the bench in a 4-0 drubbing of Nigeria just days before Qatar 2022. And, as he has done so often in his career, Ramos found a way to find the back of the net in that brief appearance.
Nonetheless with a national hero playing in his position, Ramos’ appearances in Qatar had been limited before Tuesday. He had only played a total of 10 minutes as a substitute in two of Portugal’s three Group H matches.
Ramos was asked by reporters after Portugal’s victory over Switzerland who his striking role models were. While he mentioned Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimović, there was a third name he referenced.
“Cristiano Ronaldo was one of them,” said Ramos.
After the game, Ramos even admitted his selection had come a as a surprise to him.
“I think not even in my wildest dreams I thought about being in the starting 11 for the knockout phase,” Ramos said, per Reuters.
He repaid Santos’ faith in the most emphatic of ways, powering a left-footed – his so-called weaker foot – effort past Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer after just 17 minutes.
Early in the second half, Ramos’ flicked home his second of the evening before then dinking the ball over Sommer to complete his hat-trick midway before being substituted to rapturous applause 15 minutes from the end.
His trio of goals ensured Ramos became the first player to score a hat-trick in his first World Cup start since Miroslav Klose against Saudi Arabia in 2002.
Portuguese media swooned over the nation’s new star, with one outlet saying “Ramos makes history,” with another calling him a “demolisher.”
It also had Otávio – midfielder for Portugal and Porto, Benfica’s rivals – in two minds. “Great that he scores lots of goals for us … maybe that way he will leave Benfica,” Otávio said with a smile.
Ramos’ hat-trick has created a dilemma for Santos: does he play the Benfica forward against Morocco on Saturday or bring back Ronaldo?
One thing is for sure – Ramos’ performance against Switzerland will put have significantly upped the 21-year-old striker’s transfer value.